“Post-Soviet Russia is a spectacular modern case of what happens when that basic trust between the individual and the institution, any institution, breaks down. And it may now — we shall see — provide some useful lessons for the brave new world the U.S. has just entered,” writes journalist Michael Idov in his recent piece for The New York Magazine titled “Russia: Life After Trust.”

In the article, Idov recalls the three years he spent working as a journalist in Russia during which he witnessed the effects the complete erosion of trust between people and institutions can have on civil society. The distrust Idov describes created an atmosphere in Russia, in which popular skepticism toward government institutions played to the advantage of the authoritarian regime.

One tends to imagine life in an autocratic regime as dominated by fear and oppression: armed men in the street, total surveillance, chanted slogans, and whispered secrets. It is probably a version of that picture that has been flitting lately through the nightmares of American liberals fretting about the damage a potential autocrat might do to an open society. But residents of a hybrid regime such as Russia’s — that is, an autocratic one that retains the façade of a democracy — know the Orwellian notion is needlessly romantic. Russian life, I soon found out, was marked less by fear than by cynicism: the all-pervasive idea that no institution is to be trusted, because no institution is bigger than the avarice of the person in charge. This cynicism, coupled with endless conspiracy theories about everything, was at its core defensive (it’s hard to be disappointed if you expect the worst). But it amounted to defeatism. And, interestingly, the higher up the food chain you moved, the more you encountered it. Now that Russia has begun to export this Weltanschauung [world view] around the world, in the form of nationalist populism embodied here by Donald Trump, I am increasingly tempted to look at my years there for pointers on what to expect in America.

Whether this post-Soviet scenario is possible in the United States is hard to know, at this point. Nevertheless, it is timely account of the inner-workings of an authoritarian regime that is a main supporter of regressive populism in the world today.

Read the full article here.

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